Balkans Revisited

By Ioanna Sakellaraki

This photographic series approaches an architectural ruin in its capacity to recall a historical landscape and narrative that is at odds with its current state. I explore these ruins with respect to memory and territory.

In my practice, I am interested in the relationship between photography and global and social systems of power, both in historical and contemporary contexts. My homeland, Greece, has an archetypical aura that is ambiguously present in this work. I have never experienced war but I have been part of a nation struggling through transition. I have seen what is lost and what can remain. The contested landscapes captured in these images appear peaceful but beneath the surface is a deeply embedded tragedy. To my eyes, they appear vulnerable.

In this series, I explore the relationship between fragility and dominance, sameness and otherness, the past and the present. During my 2016 and 2017 visits to Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia, I was intrigued by the monumental relics of ex-Yugoslavia for their capacity as cultural markers and symbols of the territory within which I was working.

Spomenik in Serbo-Croatian means “monument.” A series of spomeniks were built across the Balkan countries under Josip Broz Tito’s leadership between the 1960s and 1990s as a symbol of brotherhood and unity. They were made to honour the struggle of the Yugoslavian resistance against Axis occupation during the National Liberation War (the Second World War conflict that liberated the country and lead to the formation of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, 1941–1945). The spomeniks stand to commemorate the suffering in the Balkan region during this occupation and celebrate Tito’s Revolution that brought this period to an end.   

Did the spomeniks successfully bring together a diverse group of ethnic people, heal old wounds, and communicate the Yugoslav ideology? Balkans Revisited explores these structures as markers of a lost, idyllic dream and an unrealized future of a nation in transition. By following the forgotten structures, I aimed to reconstruct the “skeleton” of a lost nation. These images describe what lies beneath the surface of the monuments: an unspoken truth versus the dominant narrative, a longing for a bygone optimism, and the fragile present.

 Remains of a burnt house on the outskirts of a Croatian town.

Remains of a burnt house on the outskirts of a Croatian town.

 Monument created in 1970 by the architect Petar Krstic, located in the city of Sanski Most in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It commemorates the location where civilians were executed by Axis forces during the National Liberation War.

Monument created in 1970 by the architect Petar Krstic, located in the city of Sanski Most in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It commemorates the location where civilians were executed by Axis forces during the National Liberation War.

 Dichotomy between new and old building construction in a Serbian village close to the city of Niš.

Dichotomy between new and old building construction in a Serbian village close to the city of Niš.

 A forgotten, empty billboard in a Bulgarian town.

A forgotten, empty billboard in a Bulgarian town.

 The Three Fists Monument situated in Bubanj Memorial Park in the city of Niš in Serbia. Designed by Ivan Sabolić and Mihajlo Mitrović, it commemorates the more than 10,000 Serbian, Jewish, and Roma people who were executed here from February 1942 to September 1944 by the Nazi occupiers.

The Three Fists Monument situated in Bubanj Memorial Park in the city of Niš in Serbia. Designed by Ivan Sabolić and Mihajlo Mitrović, it commemorates the more than 10,000 Serbian, Jewish, and Roma people who were executed here from February 1942 to September 1944 by the Nazi occupiers.

 A still of ongoing life in a Bosnian town.

A still of ongoing life in a Bosnian town.

 Façade of a house in a Serbian village close to the city of Niš.

Façade of a house in a Serbian village close to the city of Niš.

 Monument to the Fallen Soldiers of the Kosmaj Partisan Detachment located in the Kosmaj Mountain Park in Serbia. Designed by Vojin Stojić and Gradimir Medaković, it commemorates the Partisan regiment from the Kosmaj area and Sava region and honours those who died during the National Liberation War.

Monument to the Fallen Soldiers of the Kosmaj Partisan Detachment located in the Kosmaj Mountain Park in Serbia. Designed by Vojin Stojić and Gradimir Medaković, it commemorates the Partisan regiment from the Kosmaj area and Sava region and honours those who died during the National Liberation War.

 Forgotten basketball court in a Croatian town in the outskirts of the city of Zagreb.

Forgotten basketball court in a Croatian town in the outskirts of the city of Zagreb.

 On the road to Sarajevo, on the outskirts of a Bosnian town.

On the road to Sarajevo, on the outskirts of a Bosnian town.


Born in 1989 in Athens, Ioanna Sakellaraki is a graduate of photography, journalism and culture. She is interested in the relationship between her photography practice and ideas relating to aesthetically “mapping” the historical and contemporary context of relations with global and social systems of power. She has exhibited her work in three solo and several collective exhibitions in Europe. She is currently a Contributor for Barcroft Media and Caters News. Ioanna received an Honourable Mention from: International Photography Awards, Prix De La Photographie Paris Awards, Neutral Density Awards in 2017. She is currently based in Brussels.

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